Category 6 Lead Guards: Dribble-Drivers
(Skills: Break Defenses Down w/ Raw Speed/Change of Pace Getting to the Rim , Finishing w/ Craftiness/Floater Game, PNR Finishing, Getting to the Line)
- Ty Lawson (Junior) #18
- Kemba Walker (Junior) #9
- Isaiah Thomas (Junior) #60
- Goran Dragic (International) #45
- Jeff Teague (Sophomore) #19
- Reggie Jackson (Junior) #24
Also in this category but not analyzed: Tony Parker (International) #28, Jeremy Lin (Senior) Undrafted, Dennis Schröder (International) #17, Brandan Jennings (International) #10, Darren Collison (Senior) #21, Aaron Brooks (Senior) #26 *Amongst Others
I. What Sets Them Apart
This is the largest archetype grouping in the position and is really meant to capture the speed + burst required to gain separation of an NBA level athlete at the position and how much the position levels off after the elite offense & two-way guys. These players win on getting into the lane and breaking defenses down, either via raw speed (Lawson, Walker, Teague, Jackson) or change of pace (Dragic, Thomas). None are really elite shooters and thus don’t carry the scheme-buster designation, but each are at least enough of a shooting threat where they aren’t treated generally as complete non-shooters. None have the elite vertical athleticism as the category 2 athletes, and for the most part, each are minus defenders due to a lack of size, physical tools, or consistent effort (you can absolutely make an argument Dragic is a category 4 lead guard based on some defensive metrics, he’s just never passed the eye test for me).
Key stat attributes affiliated with these dribble-drivers are finishing in the restricted area and PNR finishing. What separates a player like Dragic is his phenomenal body control and craft finishing around the basket. Thomas replicates some of that, but is also an expert foul-drawer.
Most of the following list sans prime Lawson is comprised of more score-first lead guards than pass-first. The fundamental input here is high volume driving, which is where the analysis starts.
A.High Volume Driving
*Charts are not inclusive
2013/14 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Lead Guards)
2014/15 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Lead Guards)
2015/16 Regular Season Drives Per Game (Lead Guards)
- People forget what a weapon Lawson was at his peak, possessing elite speed + burst to get into the lane at high frequency.
- Lawson and Dragic drive more to pass and create for others while the other 4 drive to score.
- Thomas is especially adept at drawing fouls on drives.
2013/14 Regular Season FGA RA (Lead Guards)
2014/15 Regular Season FGA RA (Lead Guards)
2015/16 Regular Season FGA RA (Lead Guards)
- Dragic is quietly probably one of the best finishers of all time at the position, using insane body control and craft with his left to compensate for his lack of elite vertical athleticism.
- Thomas for his size is an outlier good finisher, being a better athlete and having more pop as a jumper than given credit for. Ulis for instance got a lot of IT2 hype this past year, and Thomas is worlds better as an athlete.
- Walker really improved his finishing last season on his highest attempt average over the last three years, which is an encouraging sign for Charlotte (perhaps a result of enhanced spacing?). It was easily Walker’s best year as a pro.
C.PNR Ball Handler
2015/16 Regular Season PNR-Handler Stats
- Jackson had the highest amount of possessions finished as a PNR handler last season in basketball, as the fulcrum of Detroit’s offense is built on the gravitational force Drummond provides as a diver/lob catcher/offensive rebounder. Jackson definitely benefits from his situation, but it’s still impressive he was able to maintain plus efficiency with high usage.
- Dragic and Lawson really struggled with turnovers in PNR last year. Dragic was an elite PNR guard paired with Frye and spacing in Phoenix, and likely struggled due to the shrunk court in Miami and playing next to high usage ball dominant wings like Wade. Lawson overall has fallen off a cliff the last two years.
2015/16 Regular Season FTA per 100 Possessions (Lead Guards)
- This is where Thomas really wins outside of finishing and what separates him from the group. He’s not the best shooter or outlier good finisher like Dragic, but he gets to the line at a high rate.
E.Shooting Off the Dribble
2015/16 Pull-Up Jumpers FGA (Lead Guards)
- Walker saw incredibly high usage his Junior year in college where he took an obscene amount of shots, and his step back mid-range jumper off the bounce is a huge part of Charlotte’s offensive creation input, especially when they need a basket in late clock 1 v 1 scenarios.
- Jackson is not a great shooter by any means but his metrics off the dribble have certainly improved.
- Notice the volume isn’t really there across the board here outside of Kemba. Neither is the efficiency nor gravitational respect that category 1 and 3 types command from defenses.
2015/16 Regular Season DRPM (Lead Guards)
- I just included this chart for a reference point. I’m relying almost entirely on my own eye-test assessment of the player’s defensive acumen, but felt inclined to give at least some form of objective reference. I don’t rely solely on one number defensive stats (and only one at that), but it at least provides utility. Like I said in the intro, if you think higher of Dragic defensively, there are certainly metrics that support that stance.
II. College Indicators/Translations
- Notice the diminutive size and lackluster wingspan measurements here outside of Teague’s length. Jackson would be the outlier if his unofficial 7 foot wingspan was actually taken. It’s hard to be a plus defender at the lead guard position without the size to fight over screens consistently or the length to contest in recovery situations at the point of attack, even if you have the speed.
2.40 Minutes Pace Adjusted
- Dragic: Goran had positive and negative indicators in virtually every category. I tend not to analyze international numbers overly closely because I don’t have a stat conversation equation, but it’s evident he was all over the board. The two-point proficiency did carry over in terms of finishing acumen however, and his elite steal marks in two seasons gave optimism analytically that he could defend (and he’s the best defender of the group).
- Thomas: IT2 didn’t have any clear positive statistical indicators in terms of shooting efficiency outside of not being a negative finisher. His allure was more of an eye test analysis of scoring instincts, body control, and athleticism for his size. His minus steal marks did shed light on his defensive liability potential, of which he is.
- Teague: Teague was a cleaner shooting prospect than I think most would recall in retrospect. He had an outlier good shooting season in 15/16, but he’s been more of an average shooter otherwise. He did post respectable steal numbers in college (his physical tools are third best on the list) but is an inconsistent NBA defender
- Walker: Kemba’s volume stats without a dramatic efficiency curb-off were always more impressive than straight efficiency. Especially his Junior year he shot a lot of shots and a lot of free throws. His numbers more so support his ability to get his own shot.
- Jackson: Jackson’s Junior year was a diametric opposite positive indicator compared to his first two, as his shooting efficiency especially spiked across the board (he was my main Kris Dunn stat comp mainly to show the difference in that final season output). The lack of steals considering his outlier wingspan was probably a red flag, as Jackson has struggled with consistency as a defender in the pros (now KCP basically just guards lead guards to let Jackson allocate all his energy offensively).
- Lawson: Lawson was the cleanest prospect here statistically, which is why he went in the first round despite his minus physical tools. He did it all in college, and ridiculously efficiently.
- Dragic: Goran has always been more of a scoring guard, which is reflected in the decision-making (A/TO) and AS/FGA stats. He’s more of a shot-creator for others than a Thomas type, which wasn’t necessarily reflected in the numbers.
- Thomas: IT2 is a scoring guard who had almost three outlier good seasons at getting to the line. His Junior year he had the best “pure” lead guard stats other than Lawson, showing he could create for others efficiently selectively.
- Teague: Teague got to the line in plus fashion with the aforementioned plus shooting efficiency, but his decision-making was red-flag-level bad. It’s probably fair to attribute some of his development in terms of his ability to run a team to Budenholzer, because out of college he looked like a speed-burst score first lead guard with minus decision-making (or he just got better naturally because that happens!).
- Walker: Walker again had insane usage and still managed to keep his decision-making and shoot first indicators from curbing off. Kemba could really draw fouls at an elite rate, which translated in plus fashion to the league.
- Jackson: Jackson’s Junior year again was easily his best year, but he never had negative A/TO indicators. He also didn’t have positive indicators in terms of drawing fouls or being a pass first player, the latter of which he’s still battling.
- Lawson: Lawson was the purest lead guard prospect above average to elite marks in every component, all of which really translated in his early days in Denver.
- Kemba’s usage in 2010/11 was the only outlier positive usage mark of the group and compensated for his freshman year negative outlier. Other than that, most of the negative outliers can be attributed to age. As all of the domestic players were big school products, it was less important to see them dominate possessions and dominant their competition, but it’s still a useful tool.
- 2pt Finishing
- Passable Defender (Steals)
- First Contract Translation: Part Time Starter in Year 4
- Drawing Fouls
- Minus Defender (Steals)
- First Contract Translation: Frequent Starter Years 1-3 (All-Star Year 5)
- Teague: *No real indicator correlation
- First Contract Translation: Starter in Years 3 and 4 (All-Star Year 6)
- Shot-creation on high usage
- Drawing Fouls
- First Contract Translation: Full-Time Starter Years 2-4
- Minus Defender (Steals)
- First Contract Translation: Starter in Year 4 Post-Trade (Westbrook Backup)
- Past First Lead Guard
- Prime Shooting Ability
- First Contract Translation: Full-Time Starter Years 3-4
III. Overall Takeaways
- Success?: It’s not an accident that after category 4 lead guards (and even there really) we start framing individual accolades in terms of starting rather than all-star appearances or all-NBA status within both careers and first contracts. You don’t find many players in this archetype on championship teams, Parker and his insane finishing and speed + burst combination playing with an outlier good franchise and one of the best big men ever being the exception to the rule. Bigger players that are great traditionally win over smaller players that are great in this league, and if you have a smaller player dominating the ball and initiating offense most frequently the odds are you will be at a disadvantage.
- Lead Guard Characterization: It’s fair I believe to characterize the position as incredibly deep, but one where you just need one of the top 20-25 guys or so and are only hurt if you’re one of the few who don’t have one. There is certainly a difference between the first 4 categories and 5 and 6, but is it the difference in winning a title? Kyrie’s performance in the finals makes me skeptical of my once thought answer of no.
Up Next: Category 7 Quasi Lead Guards: 3&D with Enough Playmaking to Initiate